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Big Thief's Subtle Brilliance

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It's a bold claim to assert that one band holds any kind of title over its colleagues, but Big Thief's careful dedication to its craft and unimpeachable songwriting make it one of the best active rock bands of the moment.

The Brooklyn ensemble is one of those acts with a rich but not necessarily straightforward sound, making it somewhat difficult to fence it in to one genre. It's not just an indie rock band, but nor are its folk influences obvious enough to qualify it as a folk-rock band. The band's core, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, churned out more directly folk-sounding songs shortly before forming Big Thief, but those styles still linger in their current project. "Pretty Things," the opening track on the band's stunning June LP, Capacity, is stripped-down and coy; "Coma," with its acoustic strums and lo-fi vocals, feels like a hushed, bedroom demo.

Other songs are unabashed rock numbers—look no further than Meek's jagged, harried guitar work that opens "Shark Smile." Big Thief's melodies manage to be intoxicating, too. The oscillating "Objects" recalls a playground chant, and Capacity's closer, "Black Diamonds," rolls along with cool confidence.

Lenker also boasts incredible chops as a songwriter, striking a balance between intimate specifics and purposeful ambiguity. "I have an older brother I don't know/He could be anywhere," she sings on "Mythological Beauty," a song about her mother. Lenker hits a high-water mark with "Mary," an intricate, tumbling number that weaves together nostalgia, childlike wonder, and striking imagery as it unfolds over five and a half minutes. It's a dense and verbose tune that's utterly unforgettable.

Big Thief takes the stage at City Plaza at 7 p.m., as the sun begins its descent in one of the first cooler weeks of the season. It's hard to imagine any better way to see them. —Allison Hussey

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